Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Columbus, GA - Infantry Museum Yanks on the Heartstrings

National Infantry Museum. Photo © by Debi Lander.
I thought the Andersonville experience was a heart-tugger, but if you don't tear up at least twice while a guide walks you through "The Last 100 Yards," you've mislaid your feelings.

Follow me. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Granted, it was a special day at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center in Columbus, GA. According to Jim Talley, who toured us through the high spots, it was change of command for the 75th Ranger Division and new inductions into the Ranger Hall of Fame.

A Merril's Marauder MSG Vincent Melillo. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We met one, MSG Vincent Melillo, 95 years young, who served with Merrill's Marauders in World War II and in Korea. It was moments like this that added extra punch to the emotional impact.

The first punch, walking into the "Last 100 Yards" exhibit, was a doozy. One hesitates to call it an "exhibit." The museum is filled with exhibits. This was a catharsis.

The infantry "owns" the last 100 yards of any battlefield; their job is to charge and engage the enemy, to defeat the enemy and to take and hold the ground. A circular opening symbolizing a drum leads to a gently sloping ramp.

Follow Me

Battle of Yorktown. Photo © by Debi Lander.
The words "I am the Infantry. Follow me" rings in your ears as you enter the dark passage. The sounds of battle are heard as the Revolutionary War's Battle of Yorktown tableau is seen.

Heads and bodies are those of today's Infantrymen. Photos © by Judy Wells.
These aren't ordinary figures in uniform; they bear the faces of today's soldiers. Planners took 30 infantrymen, battle veterans all, to New York where their faces and bodies were cast. The tableaux come alive as you stare into the eyes of men who may be in Iraq or Afghanistan as you gaze.

Battle of Antietam, Civil War. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Next is a segment of the Battle of Antietam which gave President Lincoln the win he needed to make the Emancipation Proclamation. It wasn't a cheap victory; the scene is of a stone bridge over Antietam Creek where 427 Confederates held off 10,000-12,000 Union soldiers for three hours. It also brings that war home. It was a pyrrhic victory for the Union thanks to the men of Col. Henry Benning, a resident of Columbus for whom the nearby Fort Benning is named. Most of his men had been his neighbors.

Battle of Soissons tableau. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Look overhead as you move on in time to the World War I Battle of Soissons. That's a rare WWII troop glider. This battle was the first American-led, planned offensive against the Germans.

The 5th Ranger Battalion had to climb a 100-foot tall wall of stone to defeat the German artillery unit at Pointe du Hoc on Omaha Beach. Photo © by Debi Lander.
World War II gets two tableaux, one of the D-Day landing on Omaha Beach and the other of Manilla Bay in the Pacific, payback for Japanese atrocities such as the Corregidor Death March. D-Day features German footage of the landing while the Manilla action was shot by two photographers who parachuted onto the island with the Infantry.

Millett's bayonet attack. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Korea is represented by Millett's bayonet attack,

Assault on Landing Zone X-ray. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Vietnam by Air Assault on Landing Zone X-ray.

Desert warfare. Photo © by Debi Lander.
and Desert warfare by an assault by a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that had been blown apart by a roadside bomb. It was later reassembled for the museum whose walls were built around it.

By this point the anecdotes began taking their toll.  One day a group from Officers Candidate School came through, said Jim, and one tapped him on the shoulder.  “I need to tell you something,” the man said, adding that he had been a medic on the battlefield that day. “I was the one who pulled them out and patched them up.” He began to tear up looking at the figure atop the Bradley. “The commander, he was a good friend. I couldn’t save him; he was too far gone.”

We were pretty far gone too when Jim told another about a class of fifth graders who came through. At this point a little girl began to cry loudly. “I didn’t know there were bad people in the world who wanted to hurt me, hurt my family,” she said between sobs. Two soldiers had been following the group and one came up to the girl, dropped on his knee, hugged her and said, “Honey, don’t worry. We are trained and we are here to protect you.”

Teary-eyed? You bet.

The parade ground and home of Sacred Soil. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Sacred Soil

Leaving those last 100 yards you can see the Parade Grounds where new recruits graduate to infantrymen. You can't distinguish the Sacred Soil but it's there. 

March 19, 2009, descendants of soldiers who fought and died in the Army's battles scattered soil from those wars onto the parade grounds. 

First to add Sacred Soil to the parade ground was Douglas Hamilton, a fifth generation descendant of Alexander Hamilton. He scattered soil from the Battle of Yorktown where Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton served.

Theodore Roosevelt IV could have participated twice in the ceremony - as great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was awarded the Medal of Honor after the battle of San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, and as grandson of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who earned the medal on D-Day - but he represented the veterans of the World War II European Theater with sand from the beaches of Normandy. The Pacific theater was represented by Kirk Davis, who earned the Medal of Honor with the infantry at Guadalcanal. 

Honors for the Battle of Antietam in the Civil War were shared by Henry Benning Pease Jr., a descendant of Henry Lewis Benning, who commanded the Confederates at Burnside Bridge, and former Secretary of  Interior Dirk Kempthorne, whose great-grandfather was a Union soldier wounded at Antietam.

Soil from Soissons, France, a major battle of World War I, was spread by Samuel Parker Moss whose grandfather, Samuel Parker, earned the Medal of Honor with the 28th Infantry and became that war's most decorated officer. He was joined by George York, son of Sgt. Alvin York.

Spreading soil from Korea were Medal of Honor winner Col. Ola Lee Mize, who fought at Outpost Harry, and Gen. Paik Sun-Yup, South Korea's most decorated veteran.

Adding soil from Vietnam were Gen. Hal Moore and Command Sgt. Major Basil Plumley, who fought in the first major battle there. Representing our current conflicts with soil from Iraq and Afghanistan was Command Sgt. Major Marvin Hill, senior enlisted adviser to Gen. David Petraeus.

From that day on, new infantrymen have marched over the soil of lands where their forefathers fought and died.

 Shoot 'Em

The Good Girls NEVER pass up a costume opportunity like this one in the Family Gallery.
We skimmed the galleries at best - do hit the Family Gallery and the kids' dress up area - and, with time disappearing, we headed for the Battle Simulator to take a working ride on a Humvee. We were on a mission and everyone was our enemy until we reached the Red Cross truck.

We "fought" through a simulated battle.
It was sweaty and harrowing even though we knew it was a simulated experience. You try riding shotgun and aiming a dash-mounted gun at enemies popping up and swooping down while the vehicle beneath you is jerking and bumping and veering. Only problem, no one falls down or crashes so you never know if you hit or were hit.

It would take you at least 16 hours to see everything here so the Good Girls figure we need three more be-back days. It would be well worth it.

- Post by Judy Wells

No comments:

Post a Comment